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Published on: Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Xcel Energy’s plan to close two aging coal-fired units and add more wind and solar generation is a promising opportunity to ensure that, by 2026, more than half of the electricity it provides Colorado will come from renewable resources.
It is all the more attractive because the company says it can do that while promoting $2.5 billion in clean-energy projects in rural Colorado — and saving its customers tens of millions of dollars. The caveat to the plan, which Xcel has submitted to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, is that if it can’t beat the electricity cost of the coal-fired plants, it won’t go ahead with it.
Since 2010, Xcel has shuttered about 1,100 megawatts of coal-fired power plants, and closing the Comanche 1 and 2 units in Pueblo, by 2025, would add another 660 megawatts to the list.
“We are very committed to decarbonizing when the technology and policy choices make it possible to do so,” said David Eves, president of Xcel’s Colorado subsidiary. “It’s all about the economics.”
While all this sounds good, the PUC has already, and rightly so we think, raised a series of questions about the plan, questions for which there are still no clear answers.
Commissioner Frances Koncilja has voiced concerns about the cost of the program and its impacts on the southern Colorado economy. Commissioner Wendy Moser is questioning whether this plan fits within the statutory process of electric-resource planning.
The fact that Xcel filed this agreement in the waning days of August and wants a decision from the PUC before year’s end places a burden on the commission. That is because there are no estimates yet about the cost to consumers of writing off the two units — even if it is buried in cost savings. Xcel has yet to give a figure. What will be the impact on Pueblo?
Closing the two units, leaving just one operating, will cut the Comanche station workforce, now 172, by more than half, and the property taxes on the facility, which were $19.6 million last year, could take a hit of $700,000 or more.
Xcel executives say that one of the gas-fired units could be located at the Comanche site, and construction of a new switching station could add to the tax base. The company has said it will also try to find jobs for displaced workers.
The utility and local officials are in discussions, and it is essential that any negative impacts be mitigated. A clean energy future is desirable, but not at the expense of a single community.
The plan would add 1,000 megawatts of wind, 700 megawatts of solar and 700 megawatts for natural-gas-fired generation. Some of it will be owned by Xcel, and some will come from contracts with independent power producers.
Driving the shift to renewables is the dropping price of wind and solar power. Between 2008 and 2016, the cost of wind power dropped 41 percent and solar dropped more than 50 percent, according the U.S. Department of Energy.
The competitiveness of the two has been bolstered by federal tax subsidies that are now being phased out and will expire in 2021. The Xcel plan and its urgency is also an effort to lock in some of those subsidies before they disappear.
Ultimately we agree with PUC Chairman Jeff Ackermann that while the concerns of his fellow commissioners are valid, the Xcel plan has “the makings of a significant opportunity.” But the PUC must force Xcel to prove it can move forward in a transparent and cost-effective way.
This editorial was originally published in the Denver Post.
Published on: Friday, September 1, 2017
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission this week offered Boulder some hope that it might proceed with elements of its hoped for divorce from Xcel Energy Inc.
How wide that path will be remains to be seen.
The PUC, in verbal deliberations, denied other elements of the city’s separation plan from the state’s largest utility (NYSE: XEL) as “premature, outside the PUC authority and/or not in the public interest,” according to an announcement from the PUC Thursday.
A written order spelling out the commissioners decision on Boulder’s separation plan is expected in mid-September.
But after discussions Wednesday, commissioners approved a short list of assets Boulder could acquire in its bid to operate a new, city-owned utility that would take Xcel’s place. The list was limited to distribution facilities Boulder would need to operate its own utility, such as wires and poles.
The PUC however denied Boulder’s request to put equipment inside the substations on the bid list.
The PUC also issued three conditions that must be met if the city is to get the state’s approval to transfer the distribution assets and set a 90-day deadline for the conditions to be met.
The PUC said it wants to see:
1. An agreement between Boulder and Xcel giving Xcel “permanent rights” to put equipment and assets in Boulder that the utility needs to serve its customers outside the city.
2. An “accurate and complete” list of assets that are needed;
3. And an agreement laying out how Boulder will pay Xcel for costs the utility incurs during the separation process.
The PUC rejected Boulder’s proposal that Xcel be required to do the separation work and pay for it. The commissioners also declined to require the city and the utility to co-locate facilities at substations or share electric poles.
The PUC also denied IBM’s request that the company’s campus be excluded from the city’s proposed service territory. The commissioners said “there is insufficient evidence at this time to determine if Boulder is unwilling or unable to serve IBM.”
But, they said, IBM could raise its concerns at a later date.
Xcel officials declined to comment on the commissioners’ deliberations, saying the utility was waiting for the written order.
Boulder city officials issued a statement saying they too were waiting for the written order.
But, they said, the verbal direction by the commission appears to have “created a clear path forward for the city to proceed with municipalization.”
Boulder voters in 2011 approved the creation of a city-owned utility serving city residents and businesses — as long as several conditions were met, including that the new utility could meet or beat Xcel’s service in terms of reliability and rates.
Voters also in 2011 approved a tax hike to help pay for research and legal bills related to creating a city-owned utility. That tax is set to sunset on Jan. 1, 2018.
This story was originally published in the Denver Business Journal.
Published on: Friday, September 1, 2017
DENVER — The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has approved a partial list of electric distribution assets Boulder is seeking to acquire from Xcel Energy, giving the city a path forward to creating a municipal electric utility.
The PUC made the approvals on Aug. 30 during oral deliberations. The PUC approved, with three conditions, a list of distribution facilities outside of substations that Boulder would need to operate its own utility. Boulder could use that list in a future condemnation proceeding, according to a statement from the PUC. The condemnation proceeding would set the value that Boulder would have to pay for the assets. The PUC said it denied Boulder’s request to authorize the inclusion of facilities inside of substations, saying it was premature.
A written decision from the PUC is expected in mid-September.
The final approval to transfer the assets has conditions:
An agreement between Boulder and Xcel providing permanent rights for Xcel to place and access facilities in Boulder it needs to continue to serve its customers must be filed.
A revised list of assets that is accurate and complete must be filed.
An agreement addressing payment from Boulder to Xcel for costs incurred by Xcel during separation must be filed.
The PUC requested those filings be made within 90 days.
The PUC declined parts of Boulder’s proposed separation plan, stating the requests were either premature, outside PUC authority or not in the public interest. The PUC rejected a proposal that Xcel be required to finance and construct the proposed separation work and declined to require co-location of facilities at substations or joint use of electric poles.
The PUC also denied IBM’s request to be excluded from the municipal utility’s service territory, saying that it was premature and there is insufficient evidence at this time to determine if Boulder is unwilling or unable to serve IBM’s needs. But the PUC did leave the door open for IBM to raise the issue again at a later date.
After oral deliberations, the City of Boulder released a statement saying it was reviewing the comments made and is awaiting the written order, but after preliminary review saw the clear path forward from the Commission to proceed with municipalization. The city added that it anticipated the conditional approval of acquiring the distribution system outside the substations, and it should provide a firm basis to work from.
“City staff is already at work on preparing the Network Integration Transmission Service filing that the Commissioners required prior to transfer of the substations,” the statement said. “The city is looking forward to working cooperatively with Xcel as directed by the Commission. The city attorney will be requesting time at the beginning of the next council meeting to describe the deliberations and answer questions from council members.”
by Jensen Werley
This article originally appeared in Biz West.
Published on: Thursday, August 31, 2017
Official Press Release of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission
DENVER – The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has approved a partial list of electric distribution assets that the city of Boulder is seeking to acquire from Xcel Energy. The decision gives Boulder a path forward in its effort to create its own municipal electric
In oral deliberations before PUC Commissioners on Wednesday, Aug. 30, the PUC approved with three conditions a list of distribution facilities outside of substations that Boulder needs to operate its own utility. The city could use that list in a future condemnation proceeding that would set the value that Boulder would have to pay for the assets. The PUC denied as premature Boulder’s request to authorize inclusion of facilities inside substations.
The PUC’s written decision is expected around mid-September.
The PUC said final approval of the assets to be transferred would be
filing of an agreement between Boulder and Xcel providing permanent
and access facilities in Boulder it needs to continue to serve its customers;
revised list of assets that is accurate and complete; and (3) the filing of an
addresses payment from Boulder to Xcel for costs incurred by Xcel during
requested those filings within 90 days.
The PUC declined to approve other parts of Boulder’s proposed separation plan, stating that the requests were premature, outside of PUC authority and/or not in the public interest. The PUC rejected a proposal that Xcel be required to finance and construct the proposed separation work; and declined to require co-location of facilities at substations or joint use of
The PUC also denied as premature IBM’s request to be excluded from the municipal utility’s service territory, stating that there is insufficient evidence at this time to determine if Boulder is unwilling or unable to serve IBM. But the PUC said IBM could raise the issue again at a later date.
The PUC is a division of the Department of Regulatory Agencies.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) serves the public interest by effectively
regulating utilities and facilities so that the people of Colorado receive safe, reliable, and reasonably-priced services consistent with the economic, environmental and social values of our state.
The Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the marketplace and is committed to promoting a fair and competitive business environment in Colorado. Consumer protection is our mission. Visit www.dora.colorado.gov for more information or call 303-894-7855/toll free 1-800-886-7675.
For Immediate Release: August 31, 2017
Published on: Thursday, August 31, 2017
The regulators at the Public Utilities Commission, who deliberated Wednesday in Boulder’s municipalization case, have laid out “a clear path forward” for continued pursuit of a city-run electric utility, the city said.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the city noted the fact that the commissioners — whose deliberation followed a nine-day trial that began in late July — are primed to give conditional and partial approval to a list of assets Boulder has proposed acquiring from Xcel Energy, the incumbent electric provider from which the city has been trying to separate.
The commission was not comfortable signing off on Boulder’s request to acquire Xcel substations, which are expected to be left out of the approved asset list when a final commission order is released in the next two weeks.
“The anticipated conditional approval of the acquisition of the distribution system outside the substations should provide a firm basis to work from,” the city’s statement read, adding, “City staff is already at work on preparing the … filing that the commissioners required prior to transfer of the substations.”
“The city is looking forward to working cooperatively with Xcel as directed by the commission,” the statement continued. “The city attorney will be requesting time at the beginning of the next council meeting to describe the deliberations and answer questions from council members.”
During deliberation, the regulators on the commission cast doubt on many aspects of the separation plan Boulder proposed.
Notably, they felt they did not have jurisdiction to approve Boulder’s request that Xcel design, construct and finance the separation, which in total could run north of $100 million in cost.
Contacted for comment following Wednesday’s deliberation, Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said the company preferred to wait for a written order.
Boulder’s initial statement on Wednesday, which came via spokeswoman Sarah Huntley, read, “The city appreciates the hard work, diligence and thoughtfulness of the commission and its advisors. We look forward to reviewing the final order.”
As of now, the City Council has expressed intent to ask voters to approve $16.5 million in tax funding to support the next three years of staff work related to the utility pursuit.
If Boulder does successfully break from Xcel, it’s unlikely the local distribution system would change hands, from company to city, before 2022.
This story originally appeared in the Daily Camera.
Published on: Wednesday, August 30, 2017
The Public Utilities Commission deliberated Wednesday in Boulder’s electric utility case, and stopped just shy of outright denying the city’s application to acquire Xcel Energy assets in the interest of operating a separate, city-run electric utility.
In a four-hour proceeding that followed a nine-day trial earlier this summer, the three-member commission instead decided to give a conditional and only partial approval to Boulder’s list of proposed assets to be transferred.
But the commission declined to approve the city’s separation plan, which laid out the “how” behind the desired divorce: Who does the detailed design drawings? Who conducts the engineering work behind the separation, including construction of new infrastructure? And who pays for it all?
No official decision was made Wednesday following deliberation. That will come via a written order, expected at some point before Sept. 13.
The deliberation gave a strong indication, though, that the commission is prepared to leave options open for Boulder, albeit under a set a circumstances very different from and more expensive — for the city, that is — than what was proposed in the application.
“We’ve given them a path forward,” Commissioner Frances Koncilja said. “I think the discussion that (Boulder) heard on the bench should lead them to conclude that they came very close to having the commission deny this application, because it was vague, it was ambiguous, there were many things not covered.
“But we also know that they in good faith put this together,” she said of the city proposal. “We want this to succeed and we think we’ve given you an opportunity to succeed if the voters in Boulder continue to fund this.”
As for funding, the City Council has communicated an intent to place on the ballot this November an extension of the tax that pays for the municipalization effort. The tax has, to this point, given the city about $2 million annually for staffing and legal fees related to the project, but the extension would request much more money than voters have previously approved: staff expects to need $16.5 million over the next three years.
That money would simply pay for Boulder to keep the effort going. The costs of actually municipalizing will be much steeper — particularly if the city follows the path the commission charted on Wednesday.
Engineering work needed to do detail system design is expected to cost up to $4 million. Separating the current Xcel system in Boulder from the one the city would operate could cost about $100 million. And condemning Xcel’s assets could end up costing Boulder above the $214 million ceiling voters have approved, though the final cost associated with condemnation would be decided in court.
The commission said in its deliberation that Xcel should not be responsible for completing the construction and reconfiguration work needed to separate the systems. They ruled that Boulder and Xcel should be accountable for the facilities that will serve their respective customers, but that the city should pay for work on both systems.
The commission also rejected Boulder’s request that it require co-location of certain facilities, and did not support the city’s proposal for joint use of power poles. Those details are outside the commission’s jurisdiction, the three regulators agreed, before saying that they wouldn’t be comfortable with commanding the sharing of infrastructure even if were within their purview.
“We do not have jurisdiction to turn (Xcel) into a contractor or a designer or a construction firm,” Commissioner Wendy Moser said, regarding Boulder’s request that Xcel design, construct and finance the separation.
Added Koncilja: “If we did this, we expose (Xcel) to such huge potential liability. They, in my opinion, would become almost a guarantor and subject to all sorts of litigation. I thought this was one of the requests from Boulder that was overreaching.”
For the commission, the least controversial aspect of the city’s application — its third with this commission, and the first that was actually accepted for trial — proved to be the proposed asset list.
But even that won only semi-approval; the commission approved a list of assets for transfer that does not include any substations. And the approved list came with three conditions, including one that requires the filing of an agreement between Boulder and Xcel that addresses repayment by the city as the company accrues separation costs for those assets.
If and when Boulder can return to the commission to show that it has satisfied the conditions, the asset list, minus substations, could win final approval, and the city could take it to condemnation court.
Toward the end of Wednesday’s proceedings, Moser made note of the fact that Boulder has indicated to constituents that it would like to wait to see how much condemnation would cost before deciding whether to proceed with the effort. It’s a decision that staff termed the “go/no-go” point.
“I really think it doesn’t help Boulder to wait two years to make a go/no-go decision,” Moser said. “They’re really kind of all in, or they’re not. If they’re going to pull out, they should probably pull out now.”
Boulder can also mark a victory regarding where IBM, the tech giant that has a campus in northeast Boulder, stands in this case. The company has cast doubt on whether the city could adequately provide it service, and requested to be kept out of the theoretical service area of a municipal utility.
The commission felt there was insufficient evidence to determine that Boulder is unable or unwilling to serve IBM, and so it denied the company’s request, but not without throwing in some critical comments.
“For Boulder to take the position that IBM can’t really complain until there is a disaster is just incredible to me,” Koncilja said. “I don’t understand why Boulder would want to play Russian roulette with this customer.”
Over and over on Wednesday, the commissioners mentioned that even though they represent a major hurdle Boulder needs to clear to realize its utility goals, their interpretation of their own jurisdiction leaves them with only a limited ability to sign off on a number of details in the city proposal.
“There’s much of this plan where we’re not judging the quality,” Chairman Jeff Ackermann said, but rather declining to weigh in.
He added later, of the case in general, “All the parties are walking through something that is uncharted, unprecedented. … We are trying to do our best to bring forward a decision that helps Boulder move forward in its next step.”
This story originally appeared in the Daily Camera.
Published on: Monday, August 7, 2017
Trial again proved that the city’s constitutional right to muncipalize may be hard to seize
Boulder’s trial before the Public Utilities Commission concluded Monday after nine days of testimony, and the presiding regulators will now deliberate before issuing a ruling that will inform the next steps in the ongoing municipalization effort.
The application Boulder filed with the commission — its third such filing in recent years; the first two weren’t accepted for trial — seeks approval for the transfer of certain assets owned by the city’s incumbent electric provider, Xcel Energy.
Boulder also hopes the commission will find that a Boulder-Xcel separation won’t make service for Xcel customers elsewhere in the state less “safe, reliable and effective.”
The commission ruling is expected in mid-September.
If all goes well for the city, it will proceed toward condemning Xcel assets, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Should the price wind up less than $214 million, the city would likely look to issue bonds.
A less favorable ruling for the city could see the two parties ordered to return to negotiations that would prolong an already dragged-out process that Boulder originally thought would see the city head straight to condemnation without ever engaging in the kind of proceedings that have gone on the past two weeks.
The commission could also outright reject the city’s plan.
Colorado cities have a constitutionally-guaranteed right to municipalize and condemn an incumbent’s assets. But it’s very expensive — Boulder’s been spending about $2 million annually simply on exploration and litigation, and expects to need another $16.5 million in the next three years — and the state’s regulatory system is highly unaccustomed to dealing with the sort of divorce Boulder seeks.
That helps explain why no city in Colorado has successfully formed a municipal electric utility in 43 years, and throughout the trial it was made clear that the three-member commission was struggling somewhat with how to even preside over such an unprecedented case.
A huge portion of the trial was dedicated to discussion of what, exactly, the commission should — or is allowed to — rule on, and on Monday, commission staff attempted to shed some light on how the regulators might chart a feasible course moving forward.
Sharon Podein went first, and said that the staff’s position has “evolved.” She said that she and Chief Engineer Gene Camp had been “brainstorming” ahead of their respective testimonies, and that the commission might do well to stay away from ruling much on the technical aspects of the proposed separation.
The details she advised avoiding were the subject of much disagreement during the trial. Broadly, Xcel and other parties in the case believe Boulder’s plan is not workable in its current iteration because it does not included negotiated specifics on property and easement rights.
Additionally, Boulder took criticism on multiple occasions for proposing to acquire Xcel’s existing rights to jointly use about 1,800 CenturyLink poles, because the city has apparently never actually approached CenturyLink about that.
Last week, an Xcel engineer also testified that he believes the city’s proposed asset list is incomplete, and he pushed for a one-year pause in the process.
“I think a commission decision on some of these technical issues may preclude some of the plan being implemented,” Podein testified. “I think this is better worked out among the parties.”
Camp, appearing by telephone, said that he believes Boulder has put forth a “good framework.” He’s previously been unsupportive of the city’s proposals, but said Monday, “I think we’ve come a long distance in coming to a point where we’re down to some narrower issues.”
Though the commission staffers hardly offered unequivocal endorsements, their messages were far more hopeful than anything else Boulder heard during the trial from other testifying parties: Xcel, the Office of Consumer Counsel and IBM were all deeply critical of the city’s idea for how separation might proceed.
Commission Chairman Jeff Ackermann — who appeared during the trial to be the commissioner most sympathetic to Boulder and most interested in delivering a ruling that will help lead to the realization of Boulder’s evidently elusive constitutional right — wondered aloud whether he and his two colleagues might issue a ruling that gives Xcel and the city a set amount of time to work out their remaining differences.
He said such a ruling could effectively state, “You either figure it out or we’re deciding.”
Commissioner Frances Koncilja, whose comments consistently indicated deep discomfort with Boulder’s proposal, was not OK with Ackermann’s idea.
“We are not conducting a settlement here,” she said.
Commissioner Wendy Moser was somewhere between the other two throughout the trial, though she voiced some skepticism, too.
Parties in the case now have eight days to come up with final statements of position, ahead of a ruling that may point directly to condemnation, or could see Boulder’s municipalization course once more set back, in some form.
Published on: Thursday, August 3, 2017
City’s ongoing trial before the Public Utilities Commission set to wrap Monday
In the view of Xcel Energy, the detailed planning needed to initiate a clean split between Boulder and Xcel is not complete, and thus that separation is not currently approvable by the state Public Utilities Commission.
But another year of talks between the two sides could solve this problem, Xcel officials say, and help Boulder chart a more comprehensive path toward the municipal electric utility it has long desired.
On Thursday — the seventh day in a trial expected to run for nine — Boulder attorney Thorvald Nelson pressed Xcel on why, exactly, it feels a step the city wants to take in the next few weeks should be put off for another year.
In the course of a multi-hour testimony, Chad Nickell, Xcel’s manager of system planning and strategy, stated that the list of assets Boulder is seeking to acquire from Xcel is incomplete.
He also said, as others have in the trial, that the absence of certain property descriptions, and the fact that Boulder and Xcel haven’t negotiated certain property and easement rights, should disqualify the application from the commission approval that would allow the city to move ahead to condemn Xcel’s local assets and advance toward a municipal utility.
Nelson asked Nickell whether — given the fact that Xcel believes the asset list is incomplete — the company objects to the existing list, from an engineering standpoint.
“We haven’t had the time to look at it in detail,” Nickell said.
Nelson responded: “We’ve had months that this case has been pending. Your testimony is that you haven’t had the time to evaluate the asset list. Tell me: How long does (Xcel) need?”
Nickell said that he’d like to see the two sides convene to evaluate the matter together, in detail, then return to the commission in about a year for additional proceedings.
That’s a scenario the city would very much like to avoid, in large part because of how expensive is it for Boulder to continue litigation in the case — which is still years away, in the most optimistic scenario, from seeing Boulder actually begin to operate an electric utility.
The next three years of this project, city staff estimate, would cost more than $16 million, and much steeper costs would follow during separation and condemnation.
“Do you really not understand why it’s important to Boulder to do this faster?” Nelson said to Nickell.
“When I look at it,” Nickell responded, “the faster you go and the more mistakes you have along the way, the more issues you have later.”
A Wednesday exchange between Boulder counsel and Xcel – Colorado President David Eves also indicated the city believes Xcel is moving with something short of urgency through the process.
Nelson asked Nickell whether it was better for Xcel if the case went on longer, so that the company could hang onto its Boulder customers longer. Xcel’s counsel objected, and the question was never answered.
When it came time for the three commissioners to question Nickell, only the chairman, Jeff Ackermann, had anything to add.
He asked Nickell whether Xcel would view the separation differently if it knew the case was guaranteed to result in an approval, and there was no opportunity to “kick the can.”
“I don’t know it would have changed our approach,” Nickell said.
Referencing prior testimony, Ackermann asked, “Have you ever seen anybody say (in a commission proceeding), ‘I haven’t had time to look at that’?”
Nickell said this proceeding is much different than others in which he’s participated, and can’t be compared to those cases.
The trial resumes Friday morning at 9, with two Xcel witnesses and a witness from IBM next up to testify.
This story originally appeared in the Daily Camera.
Published on: Wednesday, July 26, 2017
DENVER — After attempting for years to separate from incumbent electric provider Xcel Energy and claim energy independence via a municipal utility, Boulder finally now has its day in court.
Wednesday marked the beginning of what is scheduled to be an eight-day trial before the three-member state Public Utilities Commission, from which Boulder is seeking approval for transfer of Xcel assets within city limits.
The city is also hoping the commission will find that Boulder’s separation plan will lead to “safe, reliable and effective” service for customers.
Nearly the entire first day of trial was taken up by testimony from Heather Bailey, the city’s energy director who was hired — at the highest salary of any public employee in Boulder — to helm the municipalization project.
Her time on the witness stand included 2.5 hours of questioning from Xcel attorney Judy Matlock, who repeatedly challenged Boulder’s proposed process as it relates to when certain key aspects of the potential divorce should be finalized.
Even if the city does eventually operate its own utility, Xcel is to keep some distribution lines inside Boulder that they use to serve customers outside of the city. This matters in the case of enclaves, for example, where Xcel would need to cross over city property to reach segments of the unincorporated county that are surrounded by Boulder.
Matlock said that property and easement rights for that purpose should be agreed to before any separation plan is given a go-ahead.Bailey argued, “Without knowing what the separation plan is that’s been approved, we don’t know what agreements we need to negotiate.”
She later added, on that point, “The engineering design and the testing and the modeling that has been undertaken will inform us as to what is a safe, effective and reliable system from an electrical design perspective.”
Matlock and Bailey also went back and forth on the issue of who should be responsible for contracting and overseeing design of the hypothetical new system, which would, under Boulder’s plan, involve some joint use of power poles by the two parties.
The city has come up with a plan wherein Xcel could maintain control over the engineering — a plan that the city believed would be more amendable to Xcel than one involving city control — and as a result be the signatory on a contract with a third party tasked with carrying out that work.
But Boulder also wants the right to challenge Xcel “if the costs are inappropriate” after the contract is signed, Bailey said, or “if there are unnecessary delays that cause an increase in cost.”
“This is a role, a risk, that you want to put on(Xcel)?” Matlock said.
“We assumed (Xcel) wanted oversight of all the construction,” Bailey responded.
Even before Matlock’s questioning, the first matter that came up on Wednesday concerned Boulder’s intention to make future use of telephone poles on the western side of the city that are owned by CenturyLink, not Xcel.
CenturyLink was not represented in the room and the issue was not revisited after its initial mention. But the fact that about 1,800 poles in the separation plan belong to a party whose willingness to participate is unclear could raise questions later in the trial.
The day’s cross-examination period also included questioning from attorneys from the state, from the Office of Consumer Counsel and from IBM — the last of which has threatened in recent months to leave its Boulder campus if the city forms this utility, on the grounds that the work IBM does is too globally significant to be left up to possible service errors by a fledgling local utility.
City engineers will testify Thursday, to be followed by other city staffers, including Chief Financial Officer Bob Eichem.
The trial’s tentative schedule would have Xcel staff testifying on Tuesday and Wednesday, with testimony from additional parties taking place next Thursday and Friday, ahead of a commission ruling.
This is an important two weeks for the city, which previously submitted two other applications to the Public Utilities Commission that weren’t accepted for trial. If all goes well for the city now, it will leave the trial with permission to advance toward condemnation of Xcel assets.
The cost of condemning those assets and constructing a new system will be substantial — north of $200 million, in all likelihood — and Boulder says it would evaluate whether to proceed with municipalization after the condemnation court rules on cost. Should the city proceed at that point, the project would be debt-funded.
But Boulder, which has dubbed the post-condemnation court point “go/no-go,” could, of course, choose not to “go.”
Matlock seemed uncomfortable with that schedule.
“By the time we’re at the go/no-go decision, you have a condemnation order for a very large percentage of the company’s facilities in Boulder,” she said. “At that point, isn’t it too late? We’re trying to negotiate with you but you’ll already have an order.
“How are we going to negotiate with you under those circumstances?”
Bailey said the city believes it won’t have a problem negotiating separation concurrently with condemnation. Boulder is open, though, to two different alternatives presented by Xcel ahead of the trial.
However, many of the questions asked of Bailey related to engineering a separation were not explored, as Bailey said she’d be more comfortable deferring to the engineers who’ll testify Thursday.
Throughout Boulder’s municipalization effort, the commission has consistently said it is not trying to stop Boulder from forming its own utility, but that it has a duty to ensure that Xcel customers are not affected by Boulder’s actions and that regional reliability is maintained.
That’s held true for the three people who current comprise the commission, all of whom have been appointed in the last year and a half.
“We’re trying to be sensitive to a municipality pursuing its constitutional rights” to municipalize, Chairman Jeffrey Ackermann said in March, “but also trying to figure out who controls what here.”
This trial might have been avoided altogether, had Boulder accepted one of the settlement offers brought forth by Xcel earlier this year.
But in a dramatic City Council hearing in April, Boulder’s elected officials voted 6-3 to press on with litigation and continue the pursuit of a utility that city staff believes would be cleaner than Xcel’s, and would help move Boulder toward its goal of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030.
This story originally appeared in the Daily Camera.
Published on: Saturday, July 8, 2017
If renewed in November at its current rate, the soon-to-expire tax that funds Boulder’s effort to form a municipal electric utility would generate a projected $6.3 million over the next three years.
That amount would be roughly $10.2 million short of what staff working on the municipalization project anticipates it would need through 2020, a memo from staff to the City Council stated.
Future funding and its potential mechanisms will be discussed during a council study session Tuesday on ballot measures related to municipalization, at least two of which are expected to reach voters in November.
The question of how, if at all, to pursue the amount of funding staff expects to need seems to have numerous potential answers, according to the memo.
In its latest application to the state Public Utilities Commission — the regulatory body currently presiding over Boulder’s bid to separate from Xcel Energy and pursue local energy independence — the city writes of a “go/no go” decision to take place in 2019 or 2020.
This is the point at which Boulder will, theoretically, have completed Xcel asset condemnation and determined the costs of acquisition, transition and facility separation.
But to even reach that point, staff says, it will need $5 million for regulatory and legal work, $4.5 million for system design, $4.2 million for staffing and a $2.8 million contingency.
City staff has advised the council to consider seeking funds through extension scenarios that run from two to six years. The most costly scenario presented by staff would see average residential monthly bills rise $3.22. Longer extensions would spread costs out to below $0.50 on average, staff wrote.
If Boulder looks to scenarios that bring rising monthly bills, however, the memo added, “the dollar impact to large scale users, such as Ball Aerospace” — which has repeatedly opposed the municipalization effort in its current form — “and the University of Colorado, would be significantly greater.”
Should the City Council opt against a tax extension on the ballot but still seek to fund municipalization, it could look to reallocate money from elsewhere in Boulder’s budget — though that “would not be painless for the city,” the memo stated.
“It would require severe reductions in some services and would eliminate enhancements for other programs and services during the time the expenses were being absorbed,” city staff wrote.
Staff has also advised consideration of an alternative tax measure — one that would be aimed at generating revenue for climate-related action separate from municipalization — that would only go into effect if it received more votes than an extension of the current tax.
The council will also discuss on Tuesday asking voters to extend the council privilege to discuss municipalization in executive session and to amend a section of city charter.
The section in question includes the passage, “The city council shall establish a light and power utility only if it can demonstrate, with verification by a third-party independent expert, that the utility can acquire the electrical distribution system in Boulder and charge rates that do not exceed those rates charged by Xcel Energy at the time of acquisition.”
Staff’s memo suggests that council may wish to omit “at the time of acquisition.”
The council’s Tuesday session will come more than two weeks before the city begins its trial before the Public Utilities Commission. The commission will have a deadline of Sept. 13 — which comes after ballots must be certified by the city clerk’s office — to issue a decision, though Terry Bote, a spokesman for the regulators, reaffirmed this week that the commission “has committed to issuing a decision as expeditiously as possible.”
The different potential judgments in the case could impact the course of municipalization in Boulder, and thus impact funding, among other factors that could be included on the ballot.
But city spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said that city attorneys are not recommending the council put any contingent measures to the voters.
“Staff is not considering or putting forth proposed language that would be contingent on a particular outcome,” of the commission, she said. “We think it would be incredibly difficult to foretell the range of possible outcomes and capture that in a word that would be very clear for voters.”
This story was originally published in the Daily Camera.
Published on: Thursday, April 20, 2017 BOULDER — The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has decided to not dismiss Boulder’s case to form a municipal public utility, but is pushing back the date of the hearing from when it was scheduled for next week to later this summer.
Motions had been filed by Xcel Energy and IBM to dismiss Boulder’s case…But the commissioners decided that would delay Boulder’s attempts to form a municipal utility by too much.
Published on: Wednesday, April 19, 2017
The American Public Power Association reports on the Monday, April 17 Boulder City Council vote to keep moving forward at the PUC and reject Xcel’s settlement offers. The APPA has been following the progress of Boulder municipalization efforts closely.
Published on: Monday, April 17, 2017
BOULDER — The Boulder City Council will hear public discussion on Monday evening as whether Boulder should end municipalization litigation with Xcel Energy and put settlement options on the ballot to consider a franchise agreement or a buyout with the utility company.
But several activists in the community think that both settlement options are a bad deal, and Boulder should continue with its hearings with the Public Utilities Commission scheduled for April 26.
Published on: Monday, April 17, 2017
The Boulder City Council voted 6-3 on Monday, April 17, 2017 in favor of continuing litigation at the PUC and against placing Xcel settlement offers on the November 2017 ballot. Turnout at the public hearing was overwhelmingly in favor of “staying the course” on the MUNI, and continuing the PUC process.
Published on: Monday, April 17, 2017
In the next two weeks, the City Council in Boulder, Colo., faces a decision about whether to accept one of two settlement proposals from Xcel Energy over the city’s exploration of municipal power. Both proposals — one that would create a partnership between the investor-owned utility and the city, and another that would let Boulder buy Xcel’s system, but at a high price — would end all litigation between the two parties.
The city has a third option, as well: to reject both settlement proposals and go to an eight-day hearing before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
Published on: Friday, November 18, 2016
By Daily Camera
Boulder’s got a long way to go before it can separate from Xcel Energy and form a municipal electric utility, but the city’s never been closer than it is today.
Published on: Monday, May 23, 2016
By Brookings Institution
One of the most exciting infrastructure developments within metropolitan America, the installation of over a million solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in recent years, represents nothing less than a breakthrough for urban sustainability — and the climate.
Published on: Thursday, May 19, 2016
By Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas gaming giant MGM Resorts International told state regulators on Thursday that it will exercise its option to exit as a customer of Nevada Power and purchase its own electricity on the wholesale market.
Published on: Wednesday, February 3, 2016
by Greentech Media
Last year will likely be remembered as the year that energy storage got serious. While projects of all sizes were installed in record numbers, distributed storage received outsized attention—particularly in the U.S.
Published on: Wednesday, February 3, 2016
By Las Vegas Review-Journal
A proposed constitutional amendment to open up Nevada’s electricity markets and give consumers “meaningful choices” of utility providers was filed Wednesday with the secretary of state’s office.
Published on: Friday, October 23, 2015
by Bloomberg Business
Xcel Energy Inc., the biggest U.S. provider of wind power, expects long-term contracts for the technology to beat the cost of natural gas, another sign of the rapid transformation of the power market.
Published on: Thursday, August 20, 2015
by Daily Camera
A new online tool developed by the city of Boulder and Mapdwell, a clean-tech spinoff from M.I.T., will allow Boulder residents and business owners to understand the solar potential of their property and connect with solar resources.
Published on: Tuesday, July 7, 2015
by City of Boulder
The City of Boulder today filed an application with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) asking for approval to transfer the electric system assets necessary to operate a municipal electric utility. These assets are currently owned by Public Service Company of Colorado, also known as Xcel Energy.
Published on: Thursday, July 2, 2015
by Boulder Weekly
If Boulder was big enough to qualify for the list of largest U.S. cities ranked for energy efficiency, it would knock Denver out of the top 10, coming in at No. 7.
Published on: Tuesday, June 30, 2015
The city’s utility, Austin Energy, just released new data on developer bids for PV projects as part of a 600-megawatt procurement. The numbers show how far solar prices have come down over the last year — and will continue to drop.
Published on: Thursday, June 25, 2015
by Daily Camera
The Boulder City Council’s decision last year to formally create a municipal electric utility was upheld by a district court judge, Judge Judith LaBuda, who ruled Xcel did not meet the procedural requirements to challenge the utility formation.
Published on: Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Google announced today that it will build a new data center in Alabama at the site of a coal-fired power plant that is scheduled to be shut down, and committed to power the facility with 100 percent renewable energy.
Published on: Monday, June 8, 2015
Norway’s $890 billion government pension fund, considered the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, will sell off many of its investments related to coal, making it the biggest institution yet to join a growing international movement to abandon at least some fossil fuel stocks.
Published on: Friday, May 1, 2015
Published on: Tuesday, April 21, 2015
State politicians are governed by check-writers in the energy and telecommunications businesses, but cities are pushing back.
Published on: Thursday, April 16, 2015
For so long it seemed like a pipe dream, yet in less than a decade utility-scale solar has reached $100 billion worth of capacity. Figures from the Energy Information Administration show that it delivered 5 percent of California’s electricity in 2014. The time has come to evaluate the impact which this technology can have, not just in the United States but globally.
Published on: Wednesday, April 15, 2015
This is probably not the first place you’ve read about Georgetown, Texas, the town of 55,000 that will be getting the equivalent of 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2017. But few articles hit upon the two key reasons Georgetown was able to make this move when so many other cities with abundant renewable resources (e.g. Tucson, Arizona) are stuck with a majority-coal-fired electricity supply.
If cities had these keys, many could obtain 100 percent renewable energy at a surprisingly low cost.
Published on: Tuesday, April 14, 2015
by Bloomberg Business
California’s power grid could handle taking 100 percent of its supply from renewables such as wind and solar, and meeting the goal for half that amount will be no problem, the state’s chief energy regulator said.
Published on: Monday, April 13, 2015
Wind and solar electricity have become some of our least expensive ways to generate electricity in several markets around the world.
Wind is now the cheapest way to bring new electricity generation to the grid in the US as well as many other countries. Solar PV costs are rapidly dropping and solar is expected to join wind over the next few years. Furthermore, low-cost utility-scale solar is already beating out all other sources of electricity in some bidding processes, and home solar power beats the price of retail electricity (on average) in many markets.
Published on: Sunday, April 12, 2015
by Bloomberg Business
Sitting in a control center that helps ensure uninterrupted power for 82 million Germans, Gunter Scheibner is proving that renewable energy from the sun and wind can be just as reliable as fossil fuels.
Scheibner, in charge of keeping flows stable over 6,200 miles (9,976 kilometers) of transmission lines in eastern Germany, must keep power from solar and wind in harmony whether it’s sunny or overcast, windy or still. In doing so, he’s overcoming the great challenge for renewable energy: how to keep supplies steady when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Published on: Friday, April 10, 2015
by The Guardian
Vancouver has become the latest city to commit to running on 100% renewable energy. The city of 600,000 on Canada’s west coast aims to use only green energy sources for electricity, and also for heating and cooling and transportation.
Published on: Thursday, April 2, 2015
The U.S. electricity system is undergoing the biggest change in its 130-year history, undermining the rationale for monopoly ownership and control.
Published on: Tuesday, March 31, 2015
by IEEE Spectrum
Costa Rica has been coasting on nothing but renewable power since the start of 2015, according to news from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE).
The study found that during January, February, and at least the first half of March, the nation’s grid has been running on mostly hydropower, with geothermal, wind, biomass, and solar rounding out the power generation mix. Costa Rica has not had to use any of its oil reserves for electricity.
Published on: Thursday, March 26, 2015
by Yale Environment 360
As a founder of the Tea Party movement, Debbie Dooley may be an unlikely advocate for renewable energy. But in an e360 interview, she explains why she is breaking ranks with fellow conservatives and promoting a Florida ballot initiative that would allow homeowners to sell power produced by rooftop solar.
Published on: Thursday, March 19, 2015
The municipal utility has unveiled plans to tap wind and solar energy to meet all of its customers’ power needs, making it the first Texas city-owned utility to abandon fossil fuels.
Published on: Monday, March 16, 2015
by The Guardian
Published on: Saturday, March 7, 2015
by The Denver Post
Fort Collins has committed to an aggressive climate action target — cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent before 2030 — with city leaders calculating $600 million of investments will bring innovation and jobs.
The plan that council members unanimously approved this week calls for reducing heat-trapping emissions by shifting off electricity from fossil fuels such as coal, installing more solar panels, recycling and switching to cleaner vehicles.
Published on: Wednesday, March 4, 2015
By Rocky Mountain Institute
Fort Collins city council members have unanimously committed to an aggressive climate action target for reducing heat-trapping emissions by shifting off electricity from fossil fuels such as coal, installing more solar panels, recycling, and switching to cleaner vehicles. Only Copenhagen and Melbourne, Australia have committed to reducing emissions more rapidly.
Published on: Friday, September 19, 2014
by The New York Times
Almost as soon as modern mass-market electric vehicles became available, skeptics began asking if they actually delivered an environmental benefit. After all, they argued, charging batteries from a generating plant that burns fossil fuels simply relocates the greenhouse gas emissions to someone else’s neighborhood.
There was some basis for this position: An April 2012 report titled “State of Charge: Electric Vehicles’ Global Warming Emissions and Fuel Cost Savings Across the United States,” by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that electric vehicles were cleaner than hybrids in only 45 percent of the country. That was because in many areas, the majority of grid electricity used to charge the vehicles was generated at coal-fired power plants.
The situation has changed.